James McWha

James McWha

McWha in 2019
Born (1947-05-28) 28 May 1947 (age 76)
County Down, Northern Ireland
Alma materQueen's University Belfast
Glasgow University
AwardsHonorary Officer of the Order of Australia
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Adelaide
Massey University
3rd Vice-Chancellor of Massey University
In office
Preceded byNeil Waters
Succeeded byJudith Kinnear

James Alexander McWha AO (born 28 May 1947) is a botanist whose professional career was devoted to teaching, research and educational administration in New Zealand, Northern Ireland and Australia. He retired as Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Adelaide on 30 June 2012. In October 2013 he was appointed as Vice Chancellor of the newly created University of Rwanda. He retired from the University of Rwanda in October 2015.

Early life and family

McWha was born in County Down, Northern Ireland, on 28 May 1947, the son of Sarah Isabel McWha (née Caughey) and David McWha. He graduated with a BSc and BAgr (with honours in agricultural botany) from Queen's University Belfast in 1969 and 1970. McWha received his PhD in plant physiology from Glasgow University in 1973.

In 1970, McWha married Jean Lindsay Farries and, after migrating to New Zealand in 1973, the couple went on to have three children.


After his PhD, he took up an appointment at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, where a period as a lecturer in the Department of Botany was followed by a term as Head of the Department of Plant and Microbial Sciences.[citation needed] In 1985 he returned to Northern Ireland to take up a joint appointment as Professor and Head of Agricultural Botany at Queen's University Belfast, and Deputy Chief Scientific Officer in the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture.[citation needed] In 1989 he was appointed Director of DSIR Fruit and Trees in the New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and in 1992 became foundation Chief Executive Officer of HortResearch (the Horticulture and Food Research Institute of New Zealand Ltd). He was appointed Vice-Chancellor and President of Massey University in New Zealand in 1996, and Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Adelaide, Australia, in 2002. In October 2013 he was appointed as Vice Chancellor of the newly created University of Rwanda. He retired from the University of Rwanda in October 2015, returning to Australia. In March 2018, McWha was appointed Vice Chancellor of Lincoln University in New Zealand, on a fixed-term contract until December 2018.


McWha was recognised in 2003 by the award of the Australian Centenary Medal for his services to education.

In May 2004, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) from Massey University in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Massey and his advocacy for New Zealand's education system.[citation needed]

He was made an honorary officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for services to higher education in December 2011.

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